Positive public reaction to Carly Fiorina’s performance at the Republican JV debate last week — most of which was previewed in her speech at the Reagan Library on July 28 — means, barring a dramatic change in fortunes, she will be joining the varsity squad at the next Republican debate, scheduled for September 16 at the Reagan Library. Chris Christie appears to be the most likely to be demoted, and Jim Gilmore has not yet been invited to the Simi Valley shindig, owing to failure to meet a one percent threshold.
Scott Walker gets the “Not Hot” designation because his pitch just isn’t connecting with the voters. The past week hasn’t been kind to any of the front runners: Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. Trump was down 9 in the Rasmussen post-election survey (but still in first place with 17 percent); Bush was flat in Rasmussen and down 3 in the NBC/Survey Monkey poll; Walker was down 5 in Rasmussen and down 3 in NBC/Survey Monkey. The peril of front-runner status is that if you aren’t pulling away from the field, you rapidly lose the patina of inevitability. Trump has his celebrity to fall back on, and Bush has his $100 million IE; this is why we pick Walker as the worse off of the three.
Fiorina’s recent success indicates she is auditioning well for the mantle of “fighter” — the candidate who will most effectively take on Hillary Clinton and drive home a withering critique of the Obama/Clinton legacy. In fact Fiorina is the candidate who most frequently mentions Clinton — and does not go after fellow Republicans. Note also that Fiorina has recently abandoned her biographical narrative (“a successful woman in a man’s world”); biography simply isn’t enough to stand out in a crowded field, especially not with Carson, Christie, Kasich, Jindal, Rubio, and Walker all pitching their personal story (or their parents’).
Other honorable mentions on the upside: Ted Cruz strengthened his position in the hunt for the “fighter” vote; Carson is solidifying his grasp on the “we want an outsider” vote; Rubio’s gains (he is now ahead of Walker in both national polls) may be attributable to his frequently inspirational rhetoric and big-picture policy advocacy. Or not; we’ll see next week.
Steve Wagner is president of QEV Analytics, a public opinion research firm, and a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.